Advantages & Disadvantages of Using Mixed Curriculum
What is a Mixed Curriculum?
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In the homeschool world, curriculum talk is inevitable. Homeschool parents often like to pick each other’s brain about their curriculum choices and bounce around different ideas. Many times during these conversations the best-mixed curriculums are born. If you are new to homeschooling you might be wondering what the heck is a Mixed Curriculum?
A curriculum is considered mixed when we use a different Style/Writer/Publisher (in other words a different book) for each subject we are teaching within a school grade.
When we first started homeschooling 5 years ago, I felt absolutely clueless having no idea how to put together a curriculum for our Kindergarten year. After reaching out to different people and not getting straight answers, I decided it was best to go with a “Boxed Curriculum”. I ended up purchasing the Abeka Kindergarten Parent & Child Complete Curriculum kits.
What is a Boxed Curriculum?
Well, a Boxed Curriculum is exactly the opposite of a Mixed Curriculum. It is usually a curriculum that offers full grade kits published by the same company. The Abeka Kindergarten Parent & Child Complete Curriculum kits I previously mentioned is a perfect example of what a Boxed Curriculum looks like. Boxed curriculums come with the convenience of having everything already put together for you, cutting down on research time that usually comes along with putting together your own Mixed Curriculum. Since a boxed curriculum sounds so easy you might be asking yourself…
1. Why use a “Mixed Curriculum”?
As a first-time homeschooler, I personally fell in love with Abeka’s Daily Lesson Plans. Everything I needed (structure, schedule, guidance through their step-by-step teachings) was included in Abeka’s Teachers Manual. All of this gave me the confidence I needed to begin homeschooling. By following these daily lesson plans, I felt I was teaching my children everything they needed to know without creating any learning gaps. However, we all know sometimes love at first sight can be deceiving!🤷♀️💔
The daily lesson plans, in general, were very helpful however they ended up giving me anxiety. By having such a detailed daily schedule, although helpful in some ways, backfired every time I couldn’t finish or do a lesson. In addition, these daily lessons plans had so much to cover (practice games, extra curriculum work, extra homework), I’d need a full school day (6-7 hours) to cover it all and that’s just not plausible in a homeschool setting. As all of this wasn’t enough, my child wasn’t meshing with all Abeka had to offer. Although their Language Arts kit worked fine teaching my child handwriting and how to read, the spelling and writing part was a disastrous match together with their math. My son’s learning style and my own teaching ways, made it for a rough couple of years trying to adapt to the Abeka’s ways for these subjects. In the end, it didn’t work out and I realized it just wasn’t worth it.
I can testify that if the curriculum doesn’t match a child’s learning style you are wasting your time.
- I waisted 2 years teaching spelling methods that just didn’t work with my son’s learning style and in the end, had to start from scratch in 3rd grade with the right program. (Spelling You See vs. All About Spelling)
- I waisted a whole year teaching writing in a way that it wasn’t clicking with my son. I/the boxed curriculum we were using, pushed him beyond his capabilities eventually causing him writing anxiety. It took us a couple of years of using a curriculum with a much gentler writing approach to finally shake that writing fear off. (“Essentials in Writing” A Gift for Reluctant Writers.)
- For the first 2 years, my son was taught how to memorize math facts instead of understanding them. In the end, he was a master at recalling his additions and subtractions facts but didn’t know for the life of him how to apply them to anything. Needless to say, you need to UNDERSTAND math facts (not just memorize) to solve word problems. It took us about 2 years and the right math curriculum to rewire our way of thinking and learn how to apply our math facts to solve word problems. (Math U See |Review of Levels: Primer and Up)
From personal experience, I can definitely say the Boxed Curriculum’s “one fits all style” doesn’t work with every student. Some students might be able to swing a “one for all” curriculum but that just wasn’t our case.
2. Is using a Mixed Curriculum better than a Boxed Curriculum?
In my honest opinion Yes!😀 By using a Mixed Curriculum you can customize each subject to your child’s strengths and weaknesses, interest or lack of interest. As the teacher, you also get to do the same for yourself too. For example, I knew I wouldn’t be a good candidate to teach upper-level Math or Formal Writing so I picked DVD curriculums for those subjects. Being that we are not “boxed in” a curriculum, I was able to mix and match each subject to both my children’s and my own strengths and weaknesses. It’s a win-win!
3. Is using a Mixed Curriculum cost-effective?
Most of the times, Yes! When piecing together your Mixed Curriculum you are in control of what you want and need. Also, there is A LOT of “used like-new” homeschool curriculum out there for sale. Many homeschool families buy books to then realize it won’t be a good fit. Every year for the past 3 years, I’ve found great deals on used books. Some books were in like-new conditions and others had a few pages written in but then erased. Don’t immediately shop new, in my article (55 Places to Buy Homeschool Curriculum) I list over 50 website links where you can score great used book deals. Most of the times I pay 1/3 of what a new book costs. In the end, your mixed curriculum can be as expensive as you want it to be.
Hint: If you are looking to keep the cost down, don’t buy a mixed curriculum that has already been put together by a 3rd party vendor. Lots of bells and whistles are added to make these curriculum kits look attractive which are nice but not necessary if you are wanting to keep the cost down.
4. How do I know what subjects to cover when using a Mixed Curriculum?
State Laws & Requirements
First and foremost check your State’s homeschooling laws to see if there are any specific requirements regarding subjects and amount of school hours. After you have a clear understanding of what’s required by your State Laws then you can start building your curriculum around it. For example, our State doesn’t impose any curriculum requirements on homeschoolers and this allows us to do as much or as little as we see fit on each subject. We, however, like to cover all subjects covered in public school (and much more!) but of course, we put an emphasis on what our children have a passion for.
Student’s Interests and Passions
This school year we had a plan to cover Florida’s State History for the first six weeks followed by TGTB History 1 course. Once we started our Florida History PACE Pack Course our kids have been so interested they can’t get enough! We now decided to extend our time studying Florida History and not rush through it. Why? Because our kids want to know more and we expand every lesson looking further into what we have learned at their request. I realized our State’s history is something our kids can relate and understand better than a traditional history course so why rush it? I’m going to let them enjoy it and while they do, they are also falling in love with History itself which will only help them in the future when tackling a traditional history course.
Putting together a mixed curriculum is not difficult by any means but it is time-consuming. While a Boxed Curriculum only requires the click of a button to purchase, a Mixed Curriculum takes hours of research to come together. The good news is that the research is mostly done in the first year, each following year, you might tweak somethings here and there but you’ll have most of it already figured out.
Getting Your Feet Wet
My first time using a mixed curriculum I did not put together my own at first try. I took a leap of faith and switched from Abeka to Timberdoodle Co. (1st Grade: Abeka vs. Timberdoodle). I didn’t pick a curriculum kit that included lots of bells and whistles (Elite) but instead decided to go with a curriculum that only included subjects I wanted to cover (Customized Complete kit).
My best advice if you also choose to do this, is to stick to your basics for your first time to get your feet wet. As a first-timer using Timberdoodle or any Mixed Curriculum for that matter, I wouldn’t go all out buying the extras included in their Elite kit. Why? The Elite kits can be a bit overwhelming for a beginner homeschooling parent when trying to fit everything into a daily/weekly schedule. There is so much included (mostly very cool stuff) however, there are so many hours in a day that it is practically impossible to do everything they include.
Coming into Your Own by Trial and Error
On our first year using a mixed curriculum, I stripped it down to the bare minimal subjects adding only Geography and Art. It was a success! The year after I grew more confident about what we liked, worked, and wanted to cover, so I added and changed even more books from what Timberdoodle was offering. Also, I began incorporating more STEM games to our Mixed Curriculum.
This year (4th grade), I completely moved away from using Timberdoodle kits. It took me a little bit over a year to find what works for our family, our school philosophy and our children’s learning styles. How? By trial and error. Sometime when something doesn’t work I cut it out immediately, where other times if it’s not too painful we’ll finish it but then we’ll look for something different to use the following year.
Blog Hopping & Brain Picking 🧠😀
Although we still use a couple of books we started using when we first purchased our Customized Timberdoodle kit 2 years ago, the rest of our Mixed Curriculum is purely unique to our needs. Between hours and hours of Online Research, Homeschool Catalog browsing, a good dose of Blog Hopping and picking my friends’ brain, we now have a Mixed Curriculum that fits us like a glove! Believe or not, being a member of several Facebook Homeschool Curriculum Support Groups and Blog Hopping (Confessions of a Homeschooler is one of my favorites), has helped me tremendously piecing together our Mixed Curriculums.
Picking my friends’ brain is another way I’ve found other wonderful curriculums that have changed our homeschooling life. One of my friends, who is a veteran homeschooling mom, introduced me to the wonderful world of Math-U-See. My son and I had been struggling for 2 years using our Boxed Curriculum’s math and after talking to my friend at a used book sale, I finally saw the light. After many 3rd degree questions I submitted my poor friend to😅, I took a leap of faith and went for it. What a wonderful curriculum match it ended up being for our family, it truly saved us and I’m never looking back!🙌
More recently I found myself talking to some other homeschooling moms about how much I dreaded doing science. I started inquiring about any local science classes or co-op I could send my kids to and a fellow homeschooling mom offered to bring her science curriculum so I could check it out. Well, comes to find out “The Good & The Beautiful” – Science Units was all I was missing to make our science lessons fun, super interesting and easy to teach! I also ended up finding a great friend in that same homeschool mom as well.🤗
5) How to schedule a Mixed Curriculum?
Scheduling a Mixed Curriculum vs. a Boxed Curriculum is definitely more challenging but not impossible. I’d actually say once you get the hang of it, it gives much more freedom and flexibility than the Boxed curriculum’s daily lesson plans provide. The trick is to find your rhythm first and then making your schedule. How?
Do a test run for a couple of weeks to get a feel of which subjects take long and which require a shorter amount of time to get through. Also, take note of subjects that require your teaching and the ones that your child can do independently. Once you have a good idea of how each subject goes, you schedule them throughout the week making sure you balance your days. For example, I balance our children’s days by mixing easy/short/independent subjects together with others that take longer and require my teaching. By not scheduling a bunch of hard subjects or mommy taught lessons all in the same day, I save my sons from getting burnt out and also myself.
In conclusion, what are the Advantages and Disadvantages of using a Mixed Curriculum?
- Customizing each subject to meet a child’s learning style, needs (sometimes special needs) and grade level for each subject. Sometimes a student can be on an advanced level in one subject but below grade in another (For example, the student might read at a 4th-grade level but spell at a 2nd-grade level). By using a mixed curriculum you are able to customize each and every subject to your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Flexibility (Schedule, subjects). Some homeschooling families make a weekly checklist that leaves them more freedom to move around subjects when life events get in the way of school. Other families like to put together a day-by-day schedule to hold them accountable as they afraid of forgetting and slacking off without it. Mixed curriculums come with the flexibility of choosing the scheduling and subjects of your liking!
- Cost💲. Can be considerably less expensive than a boxed curriculum. It can be as costly or as expensive as you want it to be, you are in control.
- Initial Lack of Structure/Guidance.
- Time Consuming (Initial Research Time piecing together the curriculum, Finding and Buying from different new or used vendors).
- Trial and Error. (Sometimes you might try a book but it ends up not working out as you planned. When this happens you’ll have to begin your research again and find something else. However keep in mind, this can also happen when using a boxed curriculum)🤷♀️.
“Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead.”
Wishing you a wonderful journey to a Blessed Mixed curriculum to perfectly fit all of your family needs,